It's the night before Halloween. There was a scary looking guy dressed up in a clown costume behind the glass. And the Aeros (6-1-0-3, 15 points) put on a frightening display of hockey. But in the end, they got the come-from-behind 5-3 win over the visiting Charlotte Checkers (6-3-1-0, 12 points).
And that's all that matters. Right?
Both the Aeros and Checkers were playing their third games in three nights, and it clearly showed in a first when both teams played sloppy and choppy. It was the type of first period where, if you were attending your first game ever, you would look at a friend and ask why it was they said hockey was so great. The teams seemed to lack focus, and just weren't getting much done.
The Aeros did have the 1-0 lead after one, though, despite being outshot 13-5, thanks to Jeff Taffe rescuing a turnover on an Aeros power play and hitting the top bar from just under the blue line. But then came the second period. A period of hockey so ugly that one would be forgiven for thinking they were stuck inside a horror movie.
The Aeros actually grabbed the 2-1 lead at the 10:53 mark of Kris Foucault deflected a Justin Fontaine shot into the goal. And then things fell apart as, beginning with a Tyler Cuma roughing call at the 13:09 mark, the Aeros spent the rest of the period on either 5-on-4 or 5-on-3 penalty kills.
The Aeros weren't the victims of bad officiating either. Every one of the five straight penalties they received over the last seven minutes of the second period was deserved and earned. And head coach John Torchetti had no problem with the officiating.
"We're doing it," he said. "We've got a 2-1 lead. We throw a punch. There's no reason for that. Then we take a slashing penalty in the neutral zone. They can't score there. We have to be mentally tough. And I don't see that yet."
Torchetti wasn't happy with the team's mental approach, and he wasn't willing to let the fact that the team was playing the third game in three nights serve as an excuse.
"They [Charlotte] were playing three-in-three," he said. "They looked pretty good. There's no excuses. You can't give an excuse when you're playing four playoff games in five nights. They are, too. That's where we've got to be mentally prepared in our minds."
As has become the norm for this Aeros squad, they saved the best for the third period, if you classify the best as skating harder and making shots. They were still committing stupid penalties, and had to fight off one last 5x3 penalty kill late in the third. The good news was the stupidity also got to Charlotte, and at one point, both teams were skating three-on-three thanks to penalties.
With the threat of another overtime quick approaching, Casey Wellman flew down the ice and appeared to bang a shot off the post with 2:15 left in the game -- the goal light momentarily went off -- but the refs, who were in good position, immediately waived it off. And Carson McMillan never stopped skating. He forced a Charlotte turnover and then slipped the puck between the legs of Charlotte goalie Mike Murphy just five seconds after the Wellman shot to put the Aeros up 4-3 with 2:10 left in the game.
"I just tried to get a stick on puck and keep the puck in zone," McMillan said. "It popped out of my stick, and I just tried to put it on net, and it found a hole and I couldn't be happier."
David McIntyre sealed the win for the Aeros when he got the empty-netter to make it 5-3 with just 52 seconds left.
And so ends another weekend of Aeros hockey. As bad as they played in the two games here at Toyota Center, they were still able to come away with five out of a possible six points. The entire six points would have been nice, but a for team that's not playing it's best hockey, one still has to be happy to escape with points because, at the end of the season, points gained at the start of the season are just as important as points gained at any other time.
That doesn't mean Torchetti's happy. And that doesn't mean he's not expecting this team to improve.
"When this team matures and understands what it's balance will be -- they'll be a godo hockey team," he said. "Right now, I think we're playing okay, but we still haven't played 60 minutes."
The Aeros return to action at Toyota Center next Sunday afternoon when they face the Toronto Marlies. Before that, they'll play the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland on Thursday night and the Hamilton Bulldogs in Hamilton on Friday.
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